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Bitten By A Dirty Rat


Rats were not native to America, but came from the Old World on ships about 1775. These gray rats, officially known as Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), arrived in Dakota on the early Missouri River steamboats. The rats found food and cover near trading posts and Indian villages. As towns sprung up in the 1890s, rats moved in by hitching rides aboard freight trains and steamboats.

The first rat reported in Grand Forks was killed in the Robertson Lumber Yard in June of 1900, and “it was regarded as a great curiosity,” and the oldest residents said it was the “only one ever seen in the city.”

These house-rats were sly and cunning, entering basements through cracks in stone foundations and burrowing into cellars, coming out at night to forage for scraps of food. Some rats lived in stables and carriage houses, eating from garbage piles and devouring leftover oats scattered by the horses.

It was on this date in 1905 that the Grand Forks Herald published an article telling of a man who had been bitten by a rat in his hotel room. Supposedly, the rat bit him on a “tender part of his body,” and he called the police to help him locate a physician to cauterize his wound.

The stealthy rodents proliferated and infiltrated businesses, restaurants, and warehouses, causing so much “damage all over the city,” that the Commercial Club formed a “Committee On Rats” in the spring of 1908.

Businessman George H. Wilder told the Rat Committee that he had declared a “war on the rats” threatening his store, and urged the city to devise an overall plan to get rid of the pests. And so the committee paid $1,000 to bring a rat exterminator to town to kill the rats with traps and poison.

The city also advised citizens to buy sealed garbage cans and to clean up stables and carriage-houses. New houses featured rat-proof, solid-concrete foundations; and cement sidewalks replaced the old boardwalks, which had harbored rats.

The Grand Forks Mercantile Company put a want-ad in the newspaper for “good, live cats” and paid 25 cents for each cat hired to patrol their buildings for rats.

In the end, the city cleaned itself up and won the war of extermination against the rat population.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Bitten By Rat,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, September 28, 1905, p. 4.

“Killed A Rat,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 16, 1900, p. 6.

“Committee On Rats,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, April 28, 1908, p. 10.

Editorial, Grand Forks Daily Herald, May 31, 1908, p. 4.

Vernon Bailey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, A Biological Survey of North Dakota (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1926), p. 70-73.

“Rat Committee Busy,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, October 11, 1908, p. 12.

“Will Kill The Rats,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 27, 1909, p. 6.

“Has Man At Work,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 17, 1908, p. 6.

“The Cleaning Up Of Frisco,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, August 30, 1908, p. 4.

“Wanted To Buy,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, October 10, 1908, p. 9.

“Cats Or Rats,” Evening Times [Grand Forks], January 6, 1911, p. 4.

“Rats And Their Extermination,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, January 16, 1910, p. 5.

“Starving The Rats,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, April 30, 1922, p. 21.

“The War On Rats,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, June 4, 1908, p. 10.